A laryngeal cancer, also known as cancer of the larynx (voice box) or as laryngeal carcinoma in medical terms, is a form of skin cancer that affects the skin of the voice box and results in tumor growth in the voice box.
Most laryngeal cancer are known to affect the glottis region, which consists of the anterior and posterior commissures as well as the true vocal cords initially and, if left untreated, eventually spread to the supraglottis consisting of the false cords and arytenoids.
Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal Cancer
The size and location of the tumor in the larynx determine the symptoms of the laryngeal cancer. These are the signs of laryngeal cancer:
- Hoarse/voice changes
- Lump can be felt in neck
- Constant sore throat
- Swallowing difficulty
- Persistent cough
- Wheezing sound when breathing
- Bad breath
Diagnosing Laryngeal Cancer
Laryngeal cancer is initially determined after checking the patient’s medical history and after a complete physical examination. Advanced diagnostic tests such as thoracic (chest) x-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test will be performed to determine the exact location as well as the stage of the suspected laryngeal cancer. Biopsy is later recommended, if needed, for further diagnostic value.
Treating Laryngeal Cancer
The type of treatment for laryngeal cancer depends mainly on the size of the cancer (tumor). Radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy are the main treatment methods for laryngeal cancer. The treatment for laryngeal cancer is performed by a team of different specialists including a surgical oncologist and the nursing staff.
The treatment plan for laryngeal cancer will depend on the stage of the cancer in the voice box. Early stage laryngeal cancer can be removed using minimally invasive surgery methods or with radiotherapy as well. Slightly larger cancer tumors can also be treated using these methods individually, or in combination. In later stage laryngeal cancer an extensive surgery may be required or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In more extreme cases the entire larynx might have to be removed.
Radiotherapy – This cancer treatment method uses controlled doses of high-energy radiation to destroy the cancer cells. This method may be used as an individual treatment procedure or it can be used after a surgery to stop the recurrence of cancer.
Radiotherapy is an advanced treatment method which involves aiming high-energy radiation beams to the larynx in order to destroy the cancerous cells inside. This procedure requires a bespoke plastic mould to be made to fit your head and stabilize it as needed.
There are certain side effects of radiotherapy such as sore, red skin, mouth ulcers, dry mouth, loss of taste and appetite along with weakness. However the team of specialists will take precautionary measures to avoid these unpleasant side effects.
Surgery – There are three different surgeries that are used to treat laryngeal cancer: endoscopic resection, partial laryngectomy and total laryngectomy. Endoscopic resection is ideal for early stage laryngeal cancer. This surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that involves using an endoscope, a magnifying instrument, to get a clear view of the larynx. This allows the surgeon to use other smaller surgical instruments to remove the tumor with better precision and accuracy. Partial laryngectomy can be used to treat mild forms of laryngeal cancer. This surgery aims to remove only the affected part of your larynx. Certain vocal cords may be left intact to allow oral communication.
You may face a discomfort as the larynx heals gradually after the surgery due to difficulty in breathing. The surgeon might have to perform a temporary tracheostomy which involves making an incision in your neck to insert a breathing tube. After your larynx heals the tube can be removed and incision easily closed.
Total laryngectomy is a last resort to treat highly advanced laryngeal cancer. This involves removing the entire larynx as well as surrounding lymph nodes if the cancer has spread to them.
Chemotherapy – This treatment method aims to destroy control the growth and further spreading of the cancerous cells. This often helps to reduce the size of the tumor which can be removed through surgery as well as in combination with radiotherapy to enhance its effects.
Chemotherapy medicine is usually administered intravenously (with injection to the veins) in sessions that may last for up to a few months.
Laryngeal cancer, as with any other form of cancer, needs earliest diagnosis and immediate treatment for the treatment to be successful. Contact your physician/doctor at the earliest if you face any of the signs and symptoms that may give rise to laryngeal cancer.